“Fight or flight”

The instinct of “fight or flight” is basic in wilderness animals, but society has changed this instinct in humans from a purely physical mechanism involving confrontation and survival to a psychological one that involves our entire environment. Situations require decisions as to whether to involve oneself or whether to avoid or ignore situations.

In modern consumer society, “fight” is largely driven by pleasure, for even common needs like food and shelter are “market” decisions full of marketed options. Most people let a minimal sensual level be their guide to likes and dislikes. No deeper analysis is called upon. Economic debt is a kind of “fight” instinct engaging and consuming the object of desire.

On the other hand, “flight” is apathy, boredom, lack of compassion, irresponsibility — not a true flight from danger but a flight from simplicity, nature, and the self that is revealed by the emptying of social contrivance. Thus to “fight or flight” might be added an intermediate state of contentment. To flee the grand porject of remaking oneself versus conforming to social contrivance and calling it contentment eliminates the need to stir moral passions.

Animals at rest, confident in the security of their surroundings, may experience the equivalent of this state, but it can be a bane to humans, a false reconciliation with society and society’s values. We might call this a false contentment. A positive form of contentment would be a harmony with larger patterns of reality, but society and civilization is so overwhelming that most people cannot imagine a set of values outside of this vast configuration of power, structure, and authority.

Only the hermit has, irregardless of era or culture, been able to show the way past fighting, fleeing, or the hazy ennui of contentment with the world.